We all know the famous “shaken, not stirred” line, and while it definitely can be fun to say in a botched British accent, it’s not likely to impress your bartender. Have you ever stopped to think about why exactly these two methods are used to make very different styles of cocktails?  Find out the difference…

When should a drink be shaken and when should it be stirred?

Cocktails in which the base spirit is not the main focus (be it whiskey, gin, vodka, or something else) and is instead just there to provide the alcohol are usually the kinds of cocktails that you would shake. Most often such cocktails will employ a larger volume of juice, dairy, or citrus. Shaking them together allows them to combine perfectly and chills them to the same degree; shaking also enables the drink to aerate, making it lighter and fluffier. A gin sour is an excellent example of a shaken drink. The egg whites will froth up if you shake the drink.

It should be noted, however, that you should not be adding carbonated ingredients such as tonic or soda water to your shaker. If you are making a drink with soda or other fizzy ingredients, pour them in the glass after straining the contents of the shaker into said glass.

How to Shake a Cocktail

The key to shaking a drink is to shake it forcefully, as though it owes you money. The Piston method, which involves shaking the shaker diagonally from front to back, is the most traditional form of shaking. Assume the ice cubes are one unit, and each shake will move them from the top to the bottom of the shaker. To avoid chipping, use ice that was recently made/purchased. Shake for a count of roughly 5 big words (10-15 seconds) in most drinks. However, if you want to froth the drink you'll want to shake for as long as it takes; the longer you go the more froth you get.

When to Stir?

Cocktails in which the main spirit is the key ingredient, and is present in larger volumes than the other ingredients, should be stirred. Some examples would be a manhattan, a negroni, or a classic gin martini. This will ensure that the drink does not become overly diluted from the ice, and will keep it from over-aerating.

One thing to keep in mind with most of these very classic cocktails in which the spirit is the key ingredient is that just because  it's key does not mean that it needs to be exceptional. The "Old Fashioned" came about as a way of rectifying poor quality whiskeys that hadn't spent much time aging (and may have been cut with something else), which makes sense when you think of the ingredients: sugar to give it a more pronounced sweetness, spice-forward bitters to replicate barrel spice, and orange to imitate the citrus elements of a proper whiskey. Of course, the days of needing to rectify iffy-looking "whiskey" is long done now, but the cocktails from that era have lived on.

Your base spirit should still be pleasant enough to drink on its own, but the goal of a cocktail like this is to modify the character of that spirit anyway. If your base spirit is incredibly complex on its own then it might start to fight your other ingredients, such as your vermouth, when you try to make a cocktail with it.

How to Stir?

Add a scoop of ice to a small mixing pitcher and add all of your ingredients except for your bitters. Stir slowly so as to not chip the ice or aerate the drink. Your drink will likely be sufficiently chilled after just 30-45 seconds. Strain into your cocktail glass and add your few dashes of bitters. Give it a quick stir in the glass and let it rest for a few seconds to let the bitters meld properly with the cocktail.


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